On-Site Search Must-Haves That Boost Conversions


Conversion optimization has seen an intense rise over the last few years. Some 72% of companies have conversion-rate optimization (CRO) processes in place, according to a recent survey by TrustRadius. In e-commerce, conversion optimization is a huge playing field with various factors that can be tested and tweaked to optimize conversions.

For e-commerce marketers focused on conversions, an underrated element of conversion optimization, can often lead to the highest conversions. I’m talking about site search.

About 30% of e-commerce visitors use on-site search, and they tend to be in a much more advanced stage in the purchase process than someone who just wanders through the site navigation. In fact, visitors using site search are twice more likely to convert than those that don’t.

Just by having a fully functional site search feature, you could stand to optimize conversions for at least 30% of your customers!

So, let’s take a look at must-have elements of site search that can guarantee an increase in conversions.

1. Semantic search (for more relevant results)

Google spoiled search users for all of us. By almost reading users’ minds, Google’s semantic search capabilities mean that users now expect a similar level of responsiveness from other search functions they use across the Web.

Semantic search aims to decode the real meaning or intent behind the words a user types into a search bar and offers results most relevant to their query.

In case of e-commerce site search, semantic search is even more critical. On e-commerce sites, pure text matching can lead to irrelevant results for even simple queries like “red dress.” A semantic on-site search engine will understand that the visitor intent is to buy a dress and will weed out unnecessary products like “red shoes” and “red handbags” from search results.

Semantic search also serves to meet the expectations of visitors using obscure natural language queries like “Brown Columbia Sweatshirt for Women Medium Size.”

The ability to search by details like brand names or model numbers while still being able to detect misspellings and compensate for them are capabilities that any e-commerce site search engine needs to have. That may seem like common sense, but Smashing Magazine’s usability study of e-commerce search found that a whopping 70% of online retailers show no results if the search term does not exactly match the product name.

2. Faceted search

With faceted search, online shoppers can use dynamic filters to drill down to their preferred set of products on search results pages.

Faceted search may seem like a no-brainer, but only 40% of e-commerce sites currently sport faceted search. However, four out of the top five e-commerce sites in the world offer it.

Faceted search lends both to higher conversions and a more usable experience. When implemented correctly, faceted search can help customers reach their desired product in fewer clicks, reduce exit rates, and offer a seamless, guided experience.

Another important aspect is how faceted search can actually help marketers overcome the challenges of irrelevant search results (a more difficult problem to solve). According to a site search usability study by Baymard Institute, “The sites with decent filtering and sorting options for their search results managed to salvage several search experiences that were off to a bad start due to a limited search logic.”

Let’s take an example. eBay offers me a multitude of facets to pick from to refine my search results for “flip flops.” The beauty of eBay’s faceted search is that it dynamically shows the most relevant facets based on the search query and allows me to pick multiple attributes simultaneously.

3. Breadcrumbs navigation

Not every visitor searches in a perfectly linear fashion. Often, users try to go back to a previous search results or modify their search by altering a previously chosen filter. In the absence of a bread crumbs navigation, the visitor is reduced to carrying out a whole new search instead of just clicking on the right URL.

Dell does a good job of this on its search results page. Besides allowing the users complete mobility between different categories, it also lets users go back to a category and look for alternate items. For example in the search above, I had typed in “dell inspiron windows 7.” If I clicked on “Systems” in the navigational breadcrumb, I would have the option of switching from Windows 7 to Windows 8.

4. Auto-complete (to make subliminal suggestions)

A vast majority (about 82%) of all e-commerce sites offer auto-complete options. The general logic is that Google has it, people are used to having it, so one must build it in.

However, the reasons for adding auto-complete go deeper than that. Usability tests show that when a user searches for a product, he looks at auto-complete as a list of recommendations from the site and tends to click on the auto-complete options more often than going ahead with his own query.

This is a huge opportunity for creating new product awareness or upselling an existing product using the subliminal power of suggestions.

In the example above, I could be searching for an iPad Air case. But now that I know Walmart.com also has iPad Accessories, I might be tempted to check out its site as well.

When making your auto-complete suggestions, make sure that the options are directly related to the search term entered. Also, keep the options limited to avoid overwhelming the user altogether.

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On-site search is an unsung hero on your website, silently sending visitors to the right pages and helping them make the right purchase decisions. Not only does on-site search do a great job of its core purpose of helping users find exactly what they have in mind, it also makes up for the shortcomings of poor website navigation and non-intuitive product categories.

The above features only scratch the surface of how e-commerce marketers can improve conversions through site search. The key is to constantly test and optimize site search to make it more relevant, usable, and customer-friendly.

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